Carolyn Elliott is my latest mentor and probably the most bullshit free teacher I’ve ever had. She has taught me the essence of being fearless and thorough, which is spoken about often in the recovery world, but rarely have I seen it……until now.
This exquisite woman doesn’t just sparkle, she sizzles. When I came across her coaching programs I just knew I wanted to learn what this lady was offering. She’s hugely successful, highly intelligent and insanely beautiful inside and out. I am completely obsessed with her and her philosophy on life…..in case you hadn’t noticed.
Carolyn is the creator of THRILL: the masterclass on writing for the social web, building your business, and getting paid.
She is also a Witch and a sought-after coach for magical people.
She has a PhD in Critical and Cultural Studies from the University of Pittsburgh, and is the author of Awaken Your Genius: A Seven Step Path to Freeing Your Creativity and Manifesting Your Dreams, published by Random House.
She also runs the online magazine WITCH and her other coaching program INFLUENCE (the course I’m talking at the moment which I highly recommend), can be accessed through signing up for the newsletter. It’s a life changing guide to Practical Magic will introduce you to a deep self exploration that you most likely won’t come across too often.
Nicola: Hi Carolyn. Thanks so much for taking time to answer some questions for my readers here at I Love Recovery Café.
Can you tell us a little bit about your experience with addiction and how long you’ve been addiction free?
Carolyn: Hi Nicola – sure. I was addicted to heroin when I was 17 until I got clean when I was 20. It was an ugly, brutal time in my life.
In retrospect I can see how I was drawn to heroin because I was looking for a way to escape the shame and painful feelings that I had from being abused as a child. In a way, I’m grateful to the drugs because they kept me alive: they numbed me out and kept me from just killing myself outright.
I got clean and joined a 12-step program when I was 20.
My life is very balanced and wholesome these days, but I would hesitate to call myself addiction-free because I still have addictive patterns in my personality, though in recent years I’ve resolved two of those major addictive patterns through shadow-integration work.
I think that being totally free from addiction is synonymous with being fully enlightened.
Nicola: When and why did you decide to get clean/sober?
Carolyn: Well, let’s see – I was sheerly miserable and living in squalor – I was using with my boyfriend at the time, who I lived with – and I had zero other friends apart from him.
The misery went on for a good while, though – they say you truly hit bottom when your addiction threatens the most important thing to you.
Apparently my health and happiness weren’t all that important to me – so the thing that was really “hitting bottom” for me, oddly enough, was that my grades started to slip.
At the time I was going to Carnegie Mellon University and maintaining a 4.0. As a heroin addict. For years I was a junkie with perfect grades. Which is kind of nuts, if you think about it.
When my grades finally started to slip and it looked like I might lose my place on the high honor roll, that’s when I decided to seek help.
I guess having my grades go down was a sheer objective measurement that drugs were making my life worse instead of better, and it was always super-important to me to be successful – so that loss in my grade point average helped to break my denial that the drugs were “okay.”
Nicola: Did you use any particular program for your recovery?
Carolyn: Yes, a wonderful twelve-step program, which shall remain anonymous, wink wink.
Nicola: We hear all the time in the recovery field that addicts are never cured, that we only have a reprieve and that we need to work at not using every day. Do you agree with this mode of thinking and do you still refer to yourself as an addict?
Carolyn: I do still refer to myself as an addict, I think that pretty much everyone alive is an addict, and I don’t think that addiction is ever completely cured, unless one attains full non-dual illumination.
Still, I do know that the underlying unconscious emotional motivations that drive addiction can be greatly healed and that negative life patterns can be decisively ended.
I also do believe that enlightenment can be attained, so in that sense I would say that yes, addiction can be cured. I’ll know that I’m totally free from addiction when I have the siddhis of being able to walk on water and resurrect the dead.
Until then I’m content to call myself an addict, I don’t see any shame in the term, just honesty.
I’ve been very blessed to have received a great deal of that healing of the underlying emotions that propelled my use of drugs, and that propelled negative patterns in my relationships and in my working life. It’s mostly been healing from shame.
Nicola: As the next part of my recovery and evolution I’m taking your INFLUENCE course, which is blowing my mind, and helping me to understand how my unconscious mind or shadow side works. Do you think that this kind of deep personal work has specific benefits for addicts who want recovery?
Carolyn: That’s so wonderful! My heart warms to hear this.
I can say it’s had a huge benefit for me and my own addictive patterns – the shadow integration work that I pioneered (using myself as a guinea pig) and that I now teach has gone a long, long way to heal the deepest layers of shame that for whatever reason my 12 step program wasn’t able to touch.
I think that has something to do with the way that 12 step programs are rather like the Hinayana (the Lesser Path) in Buddhism – they’re all about basic moral principles, and acceptance. Which is absolutely what you need to learn and practice for a long time if you’re a junkie.
Whereas the integration work that I teach in INFLUENCE is more akin to Vajrayana, or Tantric Buddhism – it’s about something more turbo-charged than acceptance, which is actually getting off on difficult situations and emotions. I wouldn’t expect someone new in their recovery to be able to do the kind of work we do in INFLUENCE, because it demands a ton of self-honesty.
The twelve steps are an excellent preparation for the work of shadow integration, especially the 4th and 5th steps – because being “searching and fearless” is so much of what magic and spirituality are all about.
Nicola: In your essay, “17 Bizarre Philosophies that made me $100,000 last year” you talk about Addiction being synonymous with demonic possession, and we’re all afflicted by it…..and that connection and intimacy are the hidden antidotes. Can you explain this a little bit?
Sure – that piece about connection being the antidote to addiction has been explained rather well and scientifically supported by Dr. Gabor Mate – but just in my own personal experience, I can say that addiction is definitely a demon, it is the demon that plagues humanity – whether it’s addiction to drugs or consumerism or whatever — addiction is an unconscious, alienating program with its own intelligence that runs on its own, and that doesn’t have our well-being as its priority.
The demon of addiction is made up of attachment and aversion – the more averse I am to feeling and being present with the unavoidable pain of human life, the more attached I’ll be to seeking external behaviors and situations that numb me out.
So there’s always this element of avoidance and escaping the present moment with addiction.
As I mentioned, I think that all human beings who aren’t fully enlightened are affected by the dynamics of addiction. I think we’re all addicts, it’s just that some of us are sicker than others.
Some of us addicts are addicted to Starbucks and to having dramatic romances. Some of us are addicted to heroin. Some of us are addicted to Facebook, or to dwelling in fantasies about the future or reminisces of the past.
Whatever the addiction is, however “bad” and socially unacceptable or “mild” and socially acceptable that it is, it’s ultimately all the same dynamic.
I’ve met people who have never touched drugs, alcohol, gambling, porn, tobacco, caffeine, or credit cards – who are wildly addicted to their self-righteousness.
Addiction to self-righteousness is still an addiction! Something is an addiction when it’s alienating, when it re-inforces the illusion that we’re all separate little isolated egos. And we humans have a zillion ways of re-inforcing that illusion.
I’m often deeply grateful that I hit the miserable bottom that I did when I was quite young and got connected to a 12 step program, because they taught me to be no-bullshit.
The world is rife with bullshit, but in a life-or-death situation like recovery from heroin addiction, it’s possible to learn to let a lot of that bullshit go, because the stakes are so high.
Connection and intimacy are the opposite of that avoidance which fuels addiction – they’re about being present with the pain and depth and beauty in myself, in others, in the world – without numbing it out or trying to escape it.
Nicola: What is the best piece of advice you have for people who want to kick addiction but haven’t yet?
Carolyn: If you’re struggling with drugs and or alcohol, I say definitely get yourself into a twelve-step program as fast as possible, find a sponsor who laughs a lot and seems like they have an aura of contentment and happiness and do everything your sponsor tells you to do like it’s the word of God.
Nicola: And what can you recommend to people who are in recovery and are seeking the next level of self knowledge?
Carolyn: Ah, well I would recommend that they take INFLUENCE!
I developed the techniques that I teach for shadow integration in INFLUENCE in part because I was getting frustrated after 10 years in my 12 step program, noticing that though my mentors there had saved my life in regards to drugs and teaching me how to live a fundamentally moral and wholesome existence, but they weren’t able to help me much with defeating the negative patterns in my romantic relationships and in my scarcity issues with money (which are also forms of addiction) – because they had the same ones!
So in INFLUENCE we work to delete negative limiting patterns at their core by “flipping the script” on the aversions – instead of avoiding painful feelings, we dive right into them and learn to ecstatically get off on them instead.
This kind of “reversing of aversions” can provoke dramatic, permanent shifts in limiting patterns. Personally, through this shadow integration work, I went from being stuck in a pattern of poverty to making multiple 6-figures a year, and from being stuck in a pattern of getting involved with one lousy relationship after another to now having a partnership that’s so beautiful it shocks me every day.
So I would say that for anyone in recovery who’s seeking the next level of self-knowledge, this work is really where it’s at.
Folks can find out more about the next launch of INFLUENCE by joining my email list at badwitch.es.